After the loss in Texas, plane delays and a long road home, I really wasn’t sure whether Calipari and his staff would be able to make it to the icy roads of Marshall County. But that’s exactly what he wants you to think. Always one for the grand entrance, Calipari didn’t disappoint last night.
Twas moments before Booker’s game in Marshall Co’s house, not a sharpie-wielding child was stirring, quiet as a mouse. The programs, water bottles and big blue table cloth were hung with care, in hopes that Calipari soon would be there.
I was dumb enough to exit the media area (and accidentally leave my pass, you know, just for extra fun of it) precisely as Calipari and his staff made their grand entrance. There was an announcement and I’m pretty sure I heard trumpets. Before I could turn back the autograph mob was forming and children were already going into spasms (cute side story: the most precious little junior Miss Marshall County Hoopfest ya ever did see had her orange and blue cowboy boot signed by Cal. Awww.)
Trey Lyles watched the mob from a distance, with a huge smile on his face, the same huge smile Booker would have later during Trey’s game (more on this later). Calipari would only get to see Booker and the Gill-Caesar vs Lyles games, but there was plenty other action, including a few guys the UK staff will probably keep tabs on as they progress. Let’s look at the games first, then individual players.
Arsenal Tech 54 Huntington Prep 51 (MVP: Trey Lyles)
Two things stuck out in this game: (1) Huntington Prep is very talented but are not yet playing with a sense of cohesiveness and (2) when Trey Lyles wants to rebound, he rebounds and when he wants to win, he wins. Lyles made a huge 3-pointer and made the clutch free throw his team needed to win, on his way to a manly 22 pt, 14 rebound (3 offensive) stat-line. Gill-Caesar wasn’t a factor in this one, while Jaquan Lyle and Josh Perkins put up 17 and 15, respectively, for Prep. With 14 turnovers and only 3 assists total though, Prep’s guard play was very unimpressive from a team perspective.
Ballard 92 Moss Point 71 (MVP: Kelan Martin)
The game belonged to Ballard but the show belonged to Devin Booker and Kelan Martin. The previous record for most free throws made at the MCHF was 15, Booker hit 20 of 24. I honestly believe that somewhere around 98% of the fouls called on Ballard were while defending Booker. Booker finished with 40 points (the MCHF record is 46), 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block and 1 steal but Ballard’s team play and skill level were just too much for the one-Devin-mensional Moss Point. Kelan Martin (Butler) was very impressive putting up a 30 pt, 12 reb line for Ballard (He’s gonna be a player for Butler). Quentin Snider (UL) was fun to watch as well, showing he can score with relative ease but can also distribute in a highly efficient manner, finishing with 18 points, 9 assists and 0 turnovers.
Dallas Prime Prep 67 Quality Education Academy 50 (MVP: Emmanuel Mudiay)
If you came to the MCHF hoping that Emmanuel Mudiay would somehow be cursed by returning to the Bluegrass he shunned for Larry Brown U., you left disappointed. Scoring a scorching, athletic, electric 17 pts while pulling down 11 rebs was expected at 6’5” with his athleticism, but the reason he’ll be the best NBA guard to come out of this class is his court vision and IQ. He performed a beautiful NBA-level pick and roll with Paul Washington Jr (more on him later) and generally just found the open man and put his team in a position to score. Quality Education hung around but was ultimately outmatched by Prime Prep, Mudiay and the spark provided by freshman Paul “PJ” Washington. Terrance Ferguson, a USA U-16 member last year, didn’t involve himself too much. He’s a pogo stick and has tons of raw gifts but his game was very one-dimensional in this game, relying on 3 pointers that weren’t falling instead of using that speed and athleticism to his advantage.
Other Final Scores:
Arsenal Tech 87 Ballard 84 OT (Trey Lyles had 30 pts, 19 rebs, 2 blks, 2 stls, MVP honors)
Huntington Prep 72 Atlanta Sports Academy 46 (Gill-Caesar 19 pts, MVP honors)
Trey Lyles (UK) — Lyles averaged 26 pts and 16.5 rebs per game during his two games. He also played 35 and 30 minutes, impressive stamina considering he involves himself in every play, whether rebounding or scoring. Lyles doesn’t rely on a post game, instead getting his points from transition and methodical face-up play that will usually end in a high % jumper or baseline drive, where he can finish through contact. He runs the floor very well for his size and has nice hands to receive the pass and finish on the run. He can hit from 3 point range in and is a monster utilizing his strong frame on drives and around the basket. Most impressive, next to his shoes, his rebounding. Not only does he have the size, strength and vert to box out and go get the ball, but he has an uncanny knack for great positioning and anticipation of missed shots. He may not be Randle-beastly (who is really?) but still, get ready for another double-double machine.
Check out his highlights and see what you think:
Devin Booker (UK) — Booker gave a nice performance for Kentucky fans, mostly because he showed he isn’t just the shooter that he’s been billed as. The stroke was there, smooth as butter, and the rotation on his shot is a thing of beauty. However, they just didn’t seem to be falling, rattling out to start the game. Booker adjusted to try to score other ways and did (to the tune of 40 pts). He showed he can use both hands in transition and to get into the lane. When they threw doubles at him, his basketball IQ and poise shined through as he stayed composed and found the open man. The 2nd half saw Moss Point use him as an inbounder who would immediately get the ball back and bring it up. This led to spacing for Booker, which he turned into drives and foul shots (20-24 from the line). Booker may not be the most athletic (still, check out the put back dunk in these highlights, hops) but he is solid as a rock, with above-average height for his position, which should help him even the playing field with more athletic guards. His IQ shows that, despite the fact he is “the man” for his team, he’ll adjust well to team play and will make the most of the new found open looks he gets at the next level.
Also wanted to throw in here that both Booker and Lyles seemed to really enjoy their celebrity status. Booker was all smiles interacting with fans and signing autographs (he and Cal chatted for awhile as well). Lyles even had an impromptu signing session, on his own accord, for fans in attendance and watched with an ear-to-ear grin as Calipari’s mob formed around him. Booker and Lyles talked briefly between games and Booker told us that Townes, Lyles, Ulis and himself have a group text going where they usually talk about stuff other than basketball, although a big theme, he said, was watching other programs and getting each other amped up and prepared for next season. An early effort at forming chemistry, an important factor that UK fans took a crash course on last year.
Montaque Gill-Caesar (2015) — MGC is a rock just like Booker but may not be as quite as tall as listed (6’6”). The skills are there. He has a nice looking jumper and can get himself free when working off the ball. He can also catch the ball just outside of the elbow on the wing and back down smaller guards for fadeaways or quick moves to the baseline (which he did on more than one occasion). I came away believing that he could reclassify with his size, strength and athleticism but he’ll have to be completely tuned into his college coach if he’s going to pick up the how-to and sustained effort it’ll take to keep himself consistently involved. He was streaky in his involvement but when he wanted to be the focus, he could really pour it on in bunches, scoring most of his 19 in about one and a half quarters of play. A coach that keeps him involved will have a great scoring guard on their hands. One place he was very consistent was defensive effort, where he used lateral quickness to stop drivers and sustained that effort throughout both performances. So while the skill set is definitely there for him to succeed at the next level, this isn’t the same sure thing that Wiggins reclassifying was (but, again, who else really is?). The Buzz: Gill-Caesar has offers from basically all the schools recruiting him hard except for two: UK and Duke. Gill-Caesar said that Duke had recently stepped up their pursuit, not yet extending an offer, and he wasn’t quite 100% on whether UK had officially extended the offer but did say that he was told “If I saw myself there, [Kentucky’s coaching staff] would love to have the opportunity to recruit me.” Both Lyles and Booker specifically mentioned Gill-Caesar when discussing options for the class, with Booker also mentioning Myles Turner. I personally believe UK has the edge in this one, but I’m just not quite sure whether that’ll be next year or the year after.
Miles Bridges (2016) — Miles is only a sophomore so you can expect some rough edges, especially in terms of his form on his jump shot. However, his physical gifts and what progress he has made in his game are deserving of his early 5-star rankings (he’s smart, gets himself involved and you can see he’s worked on ball handling). Bridges will not shy from contact and can finish through the contact with his strength. This should only get better as he matures. He’s going to annoy other players with his physicality and fierce effort, he’s going to box out, he’s going to get rebounds and he’s going to get garbage points. That’s his role right now for Huntington Prep and he does it well. He already utilizes both hands comfortably on drives and finishes. The potential is definitely there. The Buzz: Told multiple reporters that Kentucky and Michigan State were his dream schools. No offer yet.
Paul “PJ” Washington (2017) — Here we have a 6’7” 200+ lb freshman. Congratulations, collect your D-1 offers. Son of a basketball coach? Here have some more. You’ll want to remember this name because he has the potential to be a star. He logged 14 minutes for a top ten high school program, turning that into 11 points, 2 rebounds and 2 blocks. He repeatedly found himself in great position to involve himself in the play, whether in transition, getting rebounds and put backs or on the defensive end. He can face up and has a nice looking stroke already. The big key will be whether he continues to grow into a big man or stays in more of the wing range. Keep an eye on this kid because I’m sure UK and every other D-1 school is.